Electronic Music Pioneer and Co-Creator of the Doctor Who Theme Honored With a Posthumous PhD

Delia Derbyshire was the co-creator of one of the twentieth century’s most iconic television themes: the Doctor Who introduction. And yet she isn’t officially credited on the song and has never received her full due.


The Guardian reports that Derbyshire, who died in 2001, will be receiving an honorary posthumous PhD from Coventry University, which will also “launch a series of school workshops in Derbyshire’s name on Friday to try to inspire a new generation of children—especially girls—to pursue maths and music.”

While she received little wider recognition for her groundbreaking work during her lifetime and struggled to break into the male-dominated music production industry—she applied to work at Decca Records but was told they didn’t employ women in their studios, eventually landing at the BBC in 1960—Derbyshire was an important influence on the development of electronic music. A tribute at NPR by Maria Sherman summarized some of her work:

She soon became enamored of the Radiophonic Workshop, a division of the media conglomerate dedicated to electronic experimentation. The invention of tape recording in the 1950s allowed sounds to be manipulated in entirely new ways; in a time when radio dramas ruled popular entertainment, the Workshop was a creative — and coveted — place of employment. In 1962, Derbyshire was assigned a position at the workshop, where she’d work for over a decade, becoming a sound specialist and a leading voice in musical counterculture: The weirder her soundscapes became, the more wondrous they felt. She created music for the world’s first fashion show with an electronic soundtrack (and considering the commonality of techno/dance music on the runway, she left a legacy in that field, too). She organized robotic noise in a way that felt truly alien, shocking sounds whole decades ahead of this music’s time.

But it was her work on the Doctor Who theme—one of the single coolest parts of the franchise, which does an incredible job of catapulting your brain deep into outer space, setting the entire tone for the show—that really left her fingerprints on the culture. It was originally a written score by Ron Granier, who remains the sole credited creator, “Due to BBC policies at the time,” according to the Guardian. But Derbyshire took his work and, as this video explains, morphed it into the transmission from some alien quasar that we know so well today.

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When I was a kid, I loved that novelty mash-up of the Doctor Who theme and “Rock & Roll part 2”. For years, I thought that’s what they were playing at every sporting event.